Arc Clams - [Akagai
(Japan), Arc Shell, Blood Clam, Blood Cockle; family Arcidae]
Found worldwide, arc clams are generally small. The largest, used for Akagai
in sushi bars, are 3 inches max. The photo specimens, purchased frozen in
Asian markets, are between 1-1/4 and 1-5/8 inches except the big one
(purchased empty) is 2-5/8 inches. Ark clams are unique in having red blood
pigments hemoglobin and myoglobin, This gives them better oxygen transfer
allowing them to live in murky low oxygen environments. They are sold frozen
in Asian markets whole, half shell, or as cooked frozen meat.
Cherrystone - see Hard Clam.
Geoduck - [Mirugai
(Japan), Giant Clam (U.S. sushi bars), Elephant Trunk Clam (China),
King Clam (U.S. marketing), Goiduck, Gweduck; Panopea abrupta]
The Geoduck is the largest burrowing clam in the world. Individuals weighing 15 pounds are recorded and bigger ones rumored but the photo specimen is a normal market size of 2.2 pounds and 12 inches total length (5 inch shell). They are long lived with a record age of 168 years.
This clam is found only on the West Coast of North America from Washington State north through southern Alaska and from the tidal zone to 350 feet deep. The name comes from the Nisqually Indian "gwe-duk" ("dig-deep") and the strange spelling is thought to have been a transcription error.
Geoduck harvesting is tightly controlled both in the U.S. and Canada to
assure sustainability. Most of the commercial harvest is sent to Japan and
China where it fetches a fine price and that market keeps it expensive here.
Some much smaller Panopea species are found off Japan, China and New
Zealand. and New Zealand has apparently adopted the geoduck name for theirs.
Details and Cooking.
Hard Clam - Quahog -
[Quahogs - Chowder Clams, Cherrystones, Topnecks, Littlenecks,
Countnecks; Mercenaria mercenaria]
This common North Atlantic is found on the coast of North America from Prince Edward Island, Canada all they way down to the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico but production is centered along the coast of the state of Rhode Island in New England, USA. Some are now farmed on the US and Mexican Pacific coast, England and northern Europe.
While any size can be called a "quahog" that designation is usually reserved
for the largest sizes. The names given above from Chowder Clams to Countnecks
are size designations in descending order. The photo specimens are Cherrystones
from Mexico and were up to 3.4 inches the long way by 2.7 inches and 1.8 inches
thick. 3 pounds yielded just over 6 ounces of meat (12.6%) so at US $2.99/# the
meat was $23.73 per pound. The meat is fairly chewy so these are best
Details and Cooking.
Littleneck - see Hard Clam.
Manila Clam -
[Japanese Littleneck; Venerupis philippinarum]
These clams were accidentally introduced in the Pacific Northwest of the U.S. and Canada when Pacific Oysters were brought from Japan. They quickly became an invasive species but are now so popular a harvest both commercially and recreationally that the fishery is highly regulated.
These clams are also an aquaculture crop and are harvested at various
sizes from 1-1/4 inch to 2-1/2 inches. The main problem with this crop is
slow growth, taking over 3 years to reach harvest size. The photo
specimens were typically 1.9 inches the long way by 1.4 inches and 0.8
inch thick - 28 clams to the pound.
Details and Cooking.
Quahog - see Hard Clam.
Razor Clam -
[typical culinary species of the four most important genera:
All the genera listed above look much like the photo specimens, except the Pacific (Siliqua patula) which is much shorter. Most are Norther Hemisphere clams, but one species, Navaja (Ensis macha), inhabits both coasts of South America and is a significant commercial catch in Chile. They feature a digging foot at one end and a double siphon at the other, Razor clams are very highly regarded as food but are difficult to catch because they can dig down faster than a person can dig them up.
The photo specimens were purchased live at a large Asian market in
Los Angeles at 2013 US $5.49/pound. They may be Ensis directus
or an almost identical species. The longest was 5.88 inches long
and 7/8 inch wide. They typically weighed 1.63 ounces and yielded 0.63
ounce steamed edible (39%). The open photo specimen to the right has
Details and Cooking.
Surf Clam - Atlantic -
[Hokkigai (Japan); Skimmer, Hen Clam (Maine); Sea Clam, Giant Clam,
Bar Clam (Canada); Spisula solidissima & subspecies]
This very large clam (often over 6.5 inches) is found in the northwest
Atlantic from the southern Gulf of St. Laurence, Canada, to the Gulf of
Mexico. It is triangular in shape and lives in sand just to the sea side
of the surf zone. In the U.S. the foot (photo - called "tongue") is used
to make clam strips and the strap meat around the edge of the shell and
the adductor muscle that closes the shell are chopped and used for clam
chowder and similar recipes. The foot is also exported to Japan for use
as sushi. It is larger than the foot of their local surf clams.
Surf Clam - Arctic -
[Hokkigai (Japan); Stimpson's Surf Clam; Mactromeris polynyma]
This clam, similar to the Atlantic Surf Clam but a little smaller. There
are several subspecies. These clams are found along the northeast coast
of North America from Rhode Island north through the Gulf of St. Laurence,
and far offshore in the Grand Banks. Other subspecies are found all
around Southern Alaska, Japan and the north coast of China. As with the
Atlantic Surf Clam, the foot, strap meat and adductor muscle are edible.
The main market is Japan for sushi. It has not much penetrated the
American market due to a color difference with the Atlantic Surf Clam,
though experimental aquaculture is under way in the Gulf of Maine
White Clam -
[Asian Hard Clam; Meretrix lyrata]
This small clam is a major seafood export for Vietnam, packaged as whole frozen clams or as cooked clam meat. It is easily recognized by the white shell and the dark black streak covering one of the side edges just as though it had been dipped in paint.
The photo specimens are on the large size, at 2 inches wide and 1.2 ounces
each. 15-1/8 ounces yielded 1-3/8 ounces of clam meat (9%), or about US $33
per pound. Since you can buy a pound of frozen white clam meat for about
$3 per pound, in the shell is clearly a decorator item. Use them when
you want picturesque open clams in your soup bowl like in the cookbook
These three mussels are tell apart save by molecular genetics. They are cold and temperate water mussels which have been introduced to non-native areas including the Southern Hemisphere. All are widely marketed in the areas where they grow and are often farmed. Younger ones may have radial stripes of various colors but not green.
The photo specimens, sold in a Philippine market in Los Angeles as
"Black Mussel" are probably Pacific Blue Mussels. They were small ones
at 2.38 inches long, 1.21 inches across and 081 inch thick. This type
of mussel can grow at least an inch longer. They averaged 0.48 ounces
each and yielded 0.083 ounces steamed edible (17%). At 2013 US
$2.99/pound that comes to $17.52/ pound edible. In the photo, the closed
ones are live and the open one has been steamed. They had good flavor,
much more delicate than New Zealand mussels.
Brown Mussel -
This South Atlantic mussel is native to the shores of both Africa and
South America and has been accidentally introduced to, and become a pest
along, the coast of Texas. It is known for clogging pipes and marine
equipment and sinking navigation buoys, just like it's close relative the
Asian Green Mussel. It is a candidate for farming
due to is very fast growth but is not yet a commercial crop in the US.
In the wild green mussels can be toxic due to dinoflagellates they feed
on. Photo by Veronidae distributed under license Creative
Attribution-ShareAlike v3.0 Unported.
California Mussel -
These mussels native to the Pacific Coast from the Aleutian Islands to
northern Mexico were harvested by the Chumash Indians and their predecessors
for about 15,000 years. They have orange flesh and can grow to 8 inches long
but are generally a lot smaller. They are still gathered for human consumption
and for use as bait but not as a commercial crop. Care must be taken in
harvesting and consumption because they can be quite toxic during periods
of "red tide". Photo by Tewy distributed under Creative
Asian Green Mussel -
[Philippine Green Mussel; Perna viridis]
This Indo-West Pacific mussel is not yet common in most of the U.S. but
is now being farmed in Florida, the Caribbean and South America but is more
well known for clogging pipes and marine equipment. It is fast growing and can
grow to over 4 inches long. In the wild green mussels can be toxic due to
dinoflagellates they feed on and they can concentrate heavy metals in
contaminated water. Photo by U.S. Geological Survey = public
Green Lip Mussel -
[New Zealand Green Mussel; Perna canaliculus]
Found only around New Zealand where growing them has become a major
industry this is the "Green Mussel" most common in U.S. seafood markets and
restaurants. Unlike the other green mussel, P. viridis, it is not
suited to tropical climates and can be told from it by radial stripes of brown
or red color most visible near the lip.
Atlantic Oyster -
[Eastern Oyster; Crassostrea virginica]
As with Pacific Oysters they are sold named by point of origin.
Well known names are Apalachicola, Blue Point, Cape Cod, Chesapeake,
Chincoteague, Indian River, Kent Island, Malpeque and Wellfleet.
European Oyster -
[European Flat Oyster, Mud Oyster; Ostrea edulis]
This oyster is native to the eastern coast of the Atlantic, from Norway
to Morocco and in the Mediterranean. They were introduced to the North
American coast in the mid 20th century and have established natural
populations. It is being farmed in Maine, Washington and California, for
sale at a higher price than other oysters. The flavor is described as
"dry and metallic". they are considered excellent for eating raw on the
half shell. Adults measure 1.5 to 4.3 inches across.
Photo by Jan Johan ter Poorten distributed under license
Attribution-ShareAlike v3.0 Unported.
Olympia Oyster -
This is the native Pacific oyster, found from southeast Alaska to Baja but most common in bays and estuaries of the state of Washington. It has a thick irregularly shaped fluted shell which may range from white through purple to black in color and rarely grows larger than 1-1/2 inch across.
Formerly this oyster was so abundant in the Pacific Northwest it spawned
a major shellfish industry in Washington state. By the early 20th century
stocks were so decimated by over-harvesting, pollution and silt from highway
construction oyster growers had to bring in the Pacific Oyster to stay
in business. Olympias disappeared entirely from the once abundant Puget Sound
area and were extremely low elsewhere. Stocks have recovered a bit in some
areas and efforts are being made to assist their recovery but populations
are still at low levels. They have also reappeared in San Francisco Bay
in California, spawning a restoration effort there.
Photo by Feet Wet distributed under license Creative
Attribution v2.0 Generic.
Pacific Oyster -
[Japanese Oyster, Miyagi Oyster, Kumamoto Oyster,
Native to the coasts of Japan, Korea and China, the Pacific Oysters grown on the U.S. West Coast were brought from Japan in 1912. They are primarily an aquaculture crop but some wild populations now exist in Washington, British Columbia and elsewhere. They have now been distributed worldwide and grow on many non-tropical coasts. Pacific oysters can reach a length of as much as 10 inches but are generally marketed much smaller.
They are easily recognized by their large size and deep very rough shells (Atlantic oysters are smoother and European oysters are smoother and rather flat). They are often sold named by the location grown, such as Wescott Bays, Shoalwaters, Quilcenes and Willapa Bays.
A clumping species, Pacific oysters were originally unsuitable for the
"half-shell" market so were shucked in factories and packed in jars.
Today the emphasis is on growing solitary oysters for sale live. A new
variety (Kumamoto) has become popular and has a particularly deep shell
making it ideal for "half-shell" service.
Scallops are unique among bivalves in that they can see a lot better, having up to a hundred reflective eyes along the edge of their mantles, and most are free of any attachment (Zen mollusks?) and can swim. Some are even migratory.
The only parts of a scallop that are eaten are the large cylindrical adductor muscle and the roe, both male (white) and female (red). The muscles are sold in two forms: "dry pack" and "wet pack". Wet pack scallops are treated with sodium tripolyphosphate (STPP) which causes them to absorb a lot of water before freezing. "Wet pack" is more profitable to the seller, but quite disappointing to the buyer, as they shrink badly during cooking.
There is a fair amount of scallop farming, 80% of it in China and 10% in Japan, Russia being a distant third. Unlike fish and shrimp farming, bivalve farming is considered ecologically neutral to beneficial.
Atlantic Sea Scallop -
Native to the northeastern coast of North America, from the north shore of the Gulf of St. Lawrence south to Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, this scallop provides by far the largest scallop harvest in the world. They were over-harvested at one time but have rebounded to record levels. The harvest is now considered sustainable.
These scallops are caught by dredging and now by divers. Diver
harvesting is less ecologically damaging and provides a better product.
There is some minor scallop farming of this species within their normal
range. These scallops are up to 6-1/2 inches across (the photo specimen
is just under 6 inches) and they are generally a pinkish color.
Bay Scallop -
[Argopecten irradians and others]
Bay scallops are much smaller than the sea scallops. A. irradians is
native to the northeastern coast of North America, and once supported a
large fishery. These scallops have greatly declined due to the usual
coastal problems, mostly from development, but also from over-harvesting
of the sharks that ate the rays that eat the scallops. Today, nearly all
A. irradians in the markets are farmed in China, though some are farmed
in the Eastern US. The photo specimen, species unknown, is 3 inches
Oysters: These bivalves are a well balanced food containing protein, carbohydrates and lipids and are low in cholesterol. Oysters are an excellent source of vitamins D, C, A, B1(thiamin), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), iron, copper, iodine, magnesium, calcium, zinc, manganese and phosphorus in good nutritional proportions.
WARNING raw oysters may carry bacteria, so persons with compromised immune systems or chronic liver disease should avoid eating them raw.